John Scalzi et al. – METAtropolis
Genre: Near-future (semi-post-apocalyptic) science fiction; short stories
Started: 13 January 2012
Finished: 19 January 2012
Where did it come from? Downloaded from Audible.
Why do I have it? Partly based on Carl’s suggestion on my review of The Ghost Brigades, partly because it was a free download (and as of today, still is), and (to be honest) partly because Battlestar Galactica actors were doing the narrating.
They’re cities… OF THE
FUTURE! But fewer flying
cars than you might think.
Summary: METAtropolis is a shared-world anthology, a collection of stories that take place in the same near-future version of Earth. They each take place in a city, but none are cities as we’re used to thinking about them. This is a world after the fossil fuel collapse, a world in which the old ways of doing business have swiftly become obsolete, and struggling new economies have begun to emerge.
In Jay Lake’s “In the Forests of the Night” (read by Michael Hogan), a strange young man arrives at the anarchist stronghold of Cascadia, in the Pacific Northwest, but no one is quite sure whether his coming is a harbinger of miracles or disasters. In Tobias Buckell’s “Stochasti-city” (read by Scott Brick), a Detroit bouncer gets a job working security to deal with an influx of troublesome protestors, but soon has to decide where his loyalties really lie. Elizabeth Bear’s “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood” (read by Kandyse McClure) also takes place in Detroit, and involves a young mother unsure who she can trust, where a wrong choice means death for both her and her daughter. John Scalzi’s “Utere nihil non extra quiritationem suis” (read by Alessandro Juliani) involves a young man in New St. Louis who is finally forced to stop slacking and get a job, only to find that his options are severely limited. And in Karl Schroeder’s “To Hie from Far Cilenia” (read by Stefan Rudnicki), the city in question is not a physical place, but a virtual one, sprung from online gaming but suspected of being used to traffic very real and very deadly weapons.
Review: I’m having mixed feelings about this anthology. It’s a great idea, and I really liked the world that the authors created. It’s pretty rare to have near-future sci-fi that is neither post-apocalyptic nor dystopian, and while the world of METAtropolis did have some bleak parts, its fundamental message seemed to be that human society can survive and adapt, even under the cloud of the looming energy crisis. Also, because it’s near-future, a lot of what the authors came up with seems thoroughly plausible, although whether that was reassuring or terrifying depends on what part of the world you’re focusing on.
However, I think the shared-world aspect was also the source of some of my main issues with this collection. Oftentimes it felt as though the authors were so concerned with showing readers around this new world that they’ve dreamed up and less concerned about telling a really compelling story. The stories showcase a wide variety of societal organizations, but one of them would get into an explication of local economies, virtual economies, economies of scale and of reputation, and I’d be left wondering: yeah, fine, but what about the characters? A lot of (admittedly interesting) exposition, and not enough focus on the narrative, and in several of the stories, I felt like by the time the set-up was complete, the actual story part of the story had to be overly condensed in order to fit its allotted pages. Scalzi’s story was an exception, in terms of weaving the exposition into a solid story, but it was an exception on a number of fronts; it was the only one to feature a protagonist who was an insider rather than an outsider, and it had a much lighter, funnier tone than the others.
Also, for all the emphasis on shared worldbuilding, there were actually fewer shared aspects than I was expecting. They’re all set in the same version of the future, but the stories are totally independent, typically only name-checking the other cities, or using some of the same slang. Even Buckell and Bear’s stories, which were set in the same city, didn’t have a whole lot of interconnection. I was hoping for an anthology where each story interweaves with the others, so that you understand more about story A by reading story B and vice versa, and I didn’t find that to be the case with METAtropolis.
I did definitely enjoy the audio production. METAtropolis is one of the rare (only?) books to be conceived as an audiobook first and a print book second, and I thought it was really well done (it probably doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge Battlestar Galactica fan.) The professional narrators (Brick and Rudnicki) did an excellent job, as expected, but I was also impressed with the actors’ readings. Hogan’s was the least traditional, but he read it in his crusty-space-pirate-Colonel-Tigh voice, which suited the story really well. McClure’s reading was smooth and professional sounding, and I was really impressed at Juliani’s range at creating distinct but believable voices.
Overall, I thought this world succeeded on the shared-world front more than on the anthology front; the world was interesting, but the stories never really grabbed me the way I wanted them to. 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: It’s worth a shot for fans of near-future sci-fi, particularly if they also have an interest in economics or sociology.
First Line: Hello, and welcome to Metatropolis! I’m your tour guide, John Scalzi.
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